DIY Or Academic Training? - Why Certifications And Qualifications In The Audio Industry May Still Matter.

09-28-2013 10:56 AM

(This post is a continuation of the recent PTE discussion on the validity of academic training.)

There once was a time when music was a thing for entertainment, a hobby, a past time that existed independent of the shackles of modern commercial enterprise. A simpler, arguably better time, where people were recognised and judged by their talent and their ability to work, and perform rather than the framed piece of paper they had on the wall. Things now are different. With an expanding consumer base of pro-audio software users, music producers, mixing engineers and songwriters, the industry is becoming an increasingly difficult place to not only make a living in, but to stand out above the sea of content that is created on a daily basis. This has had an increasing effect on the earning capacity of new practitioner’s entering the industry.

So now that money is more and more scarce, and audio hardware and software isn’t getting any cheaper, we need to ask ourselves, what is the best way to spend the money we do have to improve our position? This brings me onto the crux of this article: Education.

If a large portion of established practitioners have little or no academic or technical qualifications in the audio industry, then why should we need to spend money on courses and educational certificates? Why can’t we just do it ourselves? If you are trying to decide if up-skilling is going to be of benefit to you, then here are some points to consider when deciding to pursue a music course at third level:

Reflection and objective analysis
Studying music at third and fourth level is an opportunity that is invaluable for mainly one thing: objectivity. Bringing your work to an institution that understands what you are trying to achieve and receiving ongoing guidance, tutoring and a forum for discussion and development of ideas is something that you basically don’t get when you go it alone. When you go into the industry ‘green’, you are treated as a competitor straight away, and it is harder to learn the trade in a meaningful way when you are fighting to be seen as competent and relevant at the same time.

Educational facilities on the other hand have a moral and ethical obligation to put their students in the best position possible upon leaving their course. It is in an institutions best interest to create highly trained and competent producers / engineers, because their caliber will carry as an example of what can be achieved at that institution and may encourage others to study there. They are about nurturing students, not contending with them, because it benefits everyone involved.

Knowledge = Competitive advantage
The music industry is a machine of many parts. A machine exists for a particular purpose, to carry out a function using its various components in tandem. A well built machine only entertains wheels and cogs that are of importance, and doesn’t have a facility to encompass anything above and beyond what is needs to carry out its duty. The only way to become a part of this machine is to replace a cog that either breaks or ceases to work, or to become a temporary replacement until the original component is fixed and returned to its place. Established music practitioners are the cogs of the machine. The keep everything moving and the only real way to fit a new practitioner in is to either establish your own machine, replace someone who has quit, retired or passed away or to prove yourself as a better worker than the previous person and replace them.

Studying a degree, diploma or part time course in music production, or even sitting the Avid, Logic, Ableton certificates will provide on some level, a certain caliber of knowledge that wouldn’t be readily available to you unless you were in the right circles and were actively looking for it. You cannot pass a Pro Tools exam, for example, without knowing a lot about Pro Tools, given the pass mark is 90% or over. Simply taking the test will challenge you to go above and beyond your current level of knowledge and the reward is an industry specific accreditation in that program that actually matters, AND an improved knowledge of your workflow and processes. People think these accreditations are not important, but the reality is that it is an industry wise benchmark employers do use to gauge the basic competency level of people they interview for work. Above that, it is down to the interviewee and their personal experience to get over the line. Why wouldn’t you give yourself a head start?

A simple and undeniable fact is that studying music, production and engineering will at some point offer you the opportunity to meet with seriously experienced professionals. I have met practitioners from some of the biggest companies in the industry, including Avid, Prism, Ableton, as well as experts in live sound, mastering, mixing, producing and post production that I might never come into contact with otherwise. I have the benefits of their knowledge BEFORE doing the work that may define me in the industry, and that is a major competitive advantage.

I have personally learned more profoundly enlightening things in two minute conversations with industry heads through educational connections, than in months and months of slogging it alone. If time truly equals money, then this is an absolute no-brainer. We cannot exist in isolation in the music industry, and networking on neutral ground is a sure-fire way to gain meaningful unbiased knowledge, impress the right people and hopefully get a recommendation that actually matters.

Time and Space.
Lets face it, entering the music industry at 18, straight out of secondary school/high-school is not the ideal scenario. I was personally fortunate enough to attend a business school at third level prior to engaging in the pursuit of my academic music qualification, so my maturity levels were a lot higher when beginning my third level musical education. There is no way I would have survived if I had simply begun plodding along on my own straight out of school. The information I now have simply would not be known to me and I would be years behind at this point if I hadn’t taken the plunge.

If anything, the space to mature, inform yourself and figure out what you really want to engage in the industry is the most valuable part of all. Space allows you to innovate at a higher level, and perhaps direct you towards opportunities in newly identified areas that you weren’t otherwise aware of for when you finish.

To Conclude
Ultimately, the decision is in your hands. Despite this article, I am not particularly pro OR anti-qualification. Music degrees and audio production courses are in general not cheap. Someone could easily purchase a home studio set up and the necessary gear to work as a producer with the fees for a course, and be ready to begin work tomorrow. Your financial situation and personal circumstance should always be taken into consideration.

But as we all know, the gear is not what makes you what you are. All the gear in the world isn’t going to make you immediately fantastic. Your knowledge and your willingness to learn and innovate yourself and with other like-minded individuals is the infinitely more valuable skill set. Doing a certificate or an exam just demonstrates your willingness to improve your knowledge and personal position. When you finish a meaningful course of training in production or engineering, you will also realise that you can now accomplish 10 times more, 10 times faster, on a tenth of the items you would have otherwise purchased in ignorance. Taking a course will make you take things seriously and it will help you realise if this is something you really are ready and willing to follow in a professional capacity.


Denis Kilty is an Irish Songwriter / Music Producer / Mixing Engineer based in Dublin. –